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Demonstrating Impacts of Sustainability Certifications Will Require Better Communication

L-R: Brian Perkins, Nancy De Lemos, Brad Kahn and Lara Koritzke | Image credit: Albert Chau/Sustainable Brands

Certification has, over the years, played a significant role in the development and execution of ethical supply chain programs across industries, providing frameworks within which brands can analyze and make improvements to their practices and business models. It has also provided a means to communicate brand values and commitment to these values to the public. Though certification has evolved to become an essential component of the corporate landscape, it still faces a number of challenges.

In a survey of 86 companies conducted last year, ISEAL Alliance found that businesses are largely convinced of the impacts of sustainability standards and certification but lack sufficient evidence to convince their decision makers that standards and certification are effective.

During a workshop on day two of New Metrics ’16, Etienne White (Possible) asked ISEAL’s Lara Koritzke, along with Brad Kahn (Forestry Stewardship Council), Brian Perkins (Marine Stewardship Council) and Nancy De Lemos (Sustainable Agriculture Network) to share their thoughts on best practices in measuring the social and environmental impacts of sustainable sourcing programs, and steps that can be taken to better demonstrate the effectiveness of the impacts in question.

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The panelists agreed across the board that while there is certainly no shortage of high-quality, credible research available, there are significant information gaps, many of which lie in the realm of social benefits. At this stage in the game, where credibility lies not just in certification itself but in the ability to provide measurements of impacts, this presents a major issue for brands.

Evaluation is largely executed by academics, which has resulted in a narrowing of focus. To fill in the gaps and provide brands with the most relevant information to their operations, there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between certification bodies and brands about what metrics are needed. Decision makers need to play a more involved role in the evaluation process and there needs to be more discussion surrounding the issues brands are attempting to tackle.

De Lemos also suggested that a more inclusive evaluation process would help address the issue of translating research (and the length of academic-style reports) into business-ready messages. Rainforest Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Network have already begun taking steps in this direction, test-driving a variety of different reporting methods. ISEAL is also working to bridge the information gap with its launch this week of, which provides evidence and information in the form of original research, monitoring and evaluation reports, etc on the impact of and business case for sustainability standards.

The panel appeared to have hit the nail on the head. At the end of the session, when the floor was opened up to audience questions and comments, attendees shared their own experiences with the certification process, many of which reiterated the need for better communication and collaboration.

Libby MacCarthy was previously an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Toulouse, France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]

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